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The Effect of Hydration State on Voluntary Maximum Temperature of a desert reptile, Heloderma suspectum.

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An organism's ability to maintain optimal body temperature is extremely important for sustaining physiological and behavioral processes necessary for survival. However, like other physiological systems, thermobiology can be influenced by the availability of resources. Water is a vital resource that

An organism's ability to maintain optimal body temperature is extremely important for sustaining physiological and behavioral processes necessary for survival. However, like other physiological systems, thermobiology can be influenced by the availability of resources. Water is a vital resource that has profound implications on many aspects of biological function, including thermoregulatory pathways. However, water availability has a tendency fluctuate within any given ecosystem. While several studies have investigated the influence of water availability on a range of thermoregulatory pathways, very little attention has been given to its influence on Voluntary Maximum Temperature (VMT). We investigated the effects of dehydration on Voluntary Maximum Temperature in a captive population of Gila monsters (Heloderma suspectum). Gila monsters are large-bodied, desert dwelling lizards that experience periods of seasonal dehydration. Additionally, the effects of dehydration on their physiology and behavior have been extensively studied. We hypothesized that dehydration would reduce VMT. As expected, there was a significant decrease in exit temperature as blood osmolality increased. This is presumed to be in an effort to decrease water loss. Adaptations that allow desert dwelling organisms to conserve water are highly advantageous due to seasonal water constraints. Our findings offer insight on how the behavior of these organisms may change in response to changes in climate.

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2016-05

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Inspiring Young Learners in Arizona Through Sustainability and Reptile Conservation Education

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This 15-week long course is designed to introduce students, specifically in Arizona, to basic sustainability and conservation principles in the context of local reptile wildlife. Throughout the course, the students work on identifying the problem, creating visions for the desired

This 15-week long course is designed to introduce students, specifically in Arizona, to basic sustainability and conservation principles in the context of local reptile wildlife. Throughout the course, the students work on identifying the problem, creating visions for the desired future, and finally developing a strategy to help with reptile species survival in the valley. Research shows that animals in the classroom have led to improved academic success for students. Thus, through creating this course I was able to combine conservation and sustainability curriculum with real-life animals whose survival is directly being affected in the valley. My hope is that this course will help students identify a newfound passion and call to action to protect native wildlife. The more awareness and actionable knowledge which can be brought to students in Arizona about challenges to species survival the more likely we are to see a change in the future and a stronger sense of urgency for protecting wildlife. In order to accomplish these goals, the curriculum was developed to begin with basic concepts of species needs such as food and shelter and basic principles of sustainability. As the course progresses the students analyze current challenges reptile wildlife faces, like urban sprawl, and explore options to address these challenges. The course concludes with a pilot pitch where students present their solution projects to the school.

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2021-05

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Clarifying the dehydration cascade: the relationship between water, stress, and immune function in squamates

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There is considerable recent interest in the dynamic nature of immune function in the context of an animal’s internal and external environment. An important focus within this field of ecoimmunology is on how availability of resources such as energy can

There is considerable recent interest in the dynamic nature of immune function in the context of an animal’s internal and external environment. An important focus within this field of ecoimmunology is on how availability of resources such as energy can alter immune function. Water is an additional resource that drives animal development, physiology, and behavior, yet the influence hydration has on immunity has received limited attention. In particular, hydration state may have the greatest potential to drive fluctuations in immunity and other physiological functions in species that live in water-limited environments where they may experience periods of dehydration. To shed light on the sensitivity of immune function to hydration state, I first tested the effect of hydration states (hydrated, dehydrated, and rehydrated) and digestive states on innate immunity in the Gila monster, a desert-dwelling lizard. Though dehydration is often thought to be stressful and, if experienced chronically, likely to decrease immune function, dehydration elicited an increase in immune response in this species, while digestive state had no effect. Next, I tested whether dehydration was indeed stressful, and tested a broader range of immune measures. My findings validated the enhanced innate immunity across additional measures and revealed that Gila monsters lacked a significant stress hormone response during dehydration (though results were suggestive). I next sought to test if life history (in terms of environmental stability) drives these differences in dehydration responses using a comparative approach. I compared four confamilial pairs of squamate species that varied in habitat type within each pair—four species that are adapted to xeric environments and four that are adapted to more mesic environments. No effect of life history was detected between groups, but hydration was a driver of some measures of innate immunity and of stress hormone concentrations in multiple species. Additionally, species that exhibited a stress response to dehydration did not have decreased innate immunity, suggesting these physiological responses may often be decoupled. My dissertation work provides new insight into the relationship between hydration, stress, and immunity, and it may inform future work exploring disease transmission or organismal responses to climate change.

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2016